Why and how breath meditation (pranayama) works to deliver multiple benefits

Most who practise pranayama are shocked at how time seems to vanish. As if by magic, half an hour, or an hour, just seems to slip by. Then it’s time to finish, get up and go about your daily life.

The fact is pranayama is anything but magic.  Recent studies into the effects of pranayama confirm that the ancient yogis had indeed discovered a radical way to alter consciousness.

The ancient yogis were interested to explore the changes in consciousness (mind) that result from altering the breath.

Chris blowing her nose

Breath is energy.

They were interested in looking at how energy could be shifted up along the spinal column to the brain and what effect that would have in terms of changing the chemical composition of the brain.

It is truly amazing what the ancients knew and understood about the link between the body, the breath and the mind.  It is even more astounding when you realise that western science is only now coming to understand the relationship between the body breath and mind.

For the ancients the breath is the vehicle to link the body with the mind. They found a way to shift energy from the abdomen, via the diaphragm, to create a vacuum that could pull air up and along the spine to the brain.

Each day when I practice a variety of different pranayama techniques, I am in awe at how each technique offers us a way to bring energy to both the brain and the rest of the body.

Bumble bee breath

Take for example Bhramari ( Bumble bee breath meditation). This practice involves extending your exhalation while making an audible sound like a bumble bee.

It is a practice that is now known to be particularly effective at calming the sympathetic nervous system (so-called “fight or flight” system), and to stimulating the so-called “rest and digest” part of the automatic nervous system.

It helps reduce stress, anger, anxiety, and blood pressure. It is great for improving sleep.

How mudra’s help

When it is practised with sanmukhi mudra (closing of the senses) it is even more soothing.

It results in deep relaxation and changes in brain wave patterns that place you into a deep meditative state. No wonder it seems like time slips by when you practice this pranayama.

Alternate nostril breath meditation

Western science has only recently understood that we all tend to be more dominant on one nostril or the other . And these sides of the nostril fluctuate every hour and a half.

Yogis have known for a very long time how to move energy into the right nostril and into the left nostril. They have exploited this knowledge to develop a number of techniques that have very different effects on our physiology.

The right nostril is the heating nostril. When you practice Surya Bhedana Digital pranayama, by breathing in through the right, and exhaling through the left, then this process increases body heat and digestive power. It also soothes and invigorates the nerves.

If you were to do the opposite (Chandra Bhedana) – breath in through the left nostril and out through the right, you will discover a very different effect, because it cools  and soothes the nervous system.

The yogi’s knowledge of how to balance the right and left nostril led to a practice called Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. This is a practice that cleans the channels of energy on the right and left side of the spinal column, and enhances the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

The practice allows energy to flow freely up through the central channel that follows the spinal column. Each time I practice Nadi Shodhana I leave the practice feeling so calm, and content.

Essentially the practice allows for both purification (unblocking energy), and balancing (hot-right nostril and cold-left nostril) energies so that neither nostril is dominant.

Ujjayi breath meditation

 Ujjayi is one of the principal pranayamas, and the first pranayama that most learn when starting to practice pranayama.

Ujjayi means upward and expanding like the breath of a conqueror.

It is where the lungs are fully expanded.  It is also called ocean breath because in this practice, as air is drawn from throat to chest, it makes a noise sounding like the ocean.

The inhalation breath starts in the belly to lower abdomen, and moves up the spinal column. Then the exhalation returns back to the lower abdomen.

In this practice the wandering mind is brought under control as you learn to tune into the sound and regulate the length of the inhalation and exhalation.

When you are a beginner your mind tends to wander, and you lose the rhythm. With practice, the sound and rhythm take the mind into a place of deep single pointed focus where it feels as if time has vanished.

Try Flametree’s regular Pranayama classes, online or in-studio

Each week, Flametree has pranayama or breath meditation classes at these times: Tuesday 6.30 AM; & Friday 6.30 AM.

Classes are taught by Flametree’s Senior Teacher and founder, Christine Lalor. They are both online and in-studio. Pranayama works especially well online, and many of our students do it that way.

There is more about our teachers, here.

Try breath meditation, or yoga, or both

Learn more about Flametree’s beginner yoga or introductory breath meditation deals with a 2 week free trial, here.

The non-beginner or lapsed student deal (including pranayama), is here.

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